The Unesco listed Essaouira is one of those pretty Moroccan coastal towns that have not been taken over by tourists. Yet there are bus tours to the city from Marrakech and Agadir, day trips with a driving time three hours one way.
The coastal city of Essaouira shows Morocco as it is: women in veils, woodworkers at their craft, narrow alleys, whitewashed walls – and countless doors, most of them blue.
In cooperation with Moroccan National Tourist Office
Essaouira gets fresh sea winds so it’s never too hot there. You can see fishermen return in their blue boats and seagulls waiting for their fish. You can see the thick old city walls and camels wandering along the beach.
Places fo visit in Essaouira: city gate
Yes, Essaouira has a lovely sandy beach, stretching kilometers south of the city. But since there are heavy winds from the Atlantic most of the time, Essaouira is more a wind surfing than bathing destination.
In addition Essaouira is an old city with a long and remarkable history. So if you are staying somewhere else im Morocco, why not take an Essaouira day trip?
Day Trip from Marrakech to Essaouira
The press group I was traveling with made a minibus trip from Marrakech to Essaouira. It was an easy desert drive, three hours one way along a good road that was all surfaced, and partly a four-lane motorway.
So even if the drive goes through Sahara, you don’t have to drive on sand.
Essaouira on the Map
Day trip from Marrakech to Essaouira on the map
On this Google map you can see where in Morocco Essaouira is located, and I also marked our 200 km bus journey from Marrakech on the map.
Zoom out the map to see that Essaouira is south of Casablanca and north of Agadir. From Agadir it’s a day trip distance to Essaouira as well.
Desert landscape between Marrakech and Essaouira
Here are some photos from the roadside between Marrakech and Essaouira. As all my photos look the same, there’s no need for more photos than three. As the desert looks like this and that’s it. Sand and more sand.
Driving from Marrakech to Essaouira
You can tell Morocco is a dry country, and you can also tell where some water exists. Where water exists there are plants: palms, olive trees, argan trees or vegetables.
Water in the desert means plants
This is the road from Marrakech, close to Essaouira. It’s more green at this end and you can see thorny argan trees on both sides of the road, and goats climbing in the trees.
Highway from Marrakech to Essaouira
But of course it’s not just empty desert all the way, small communities exist here and there. This is one of them, with typical pink houses – and very sandy cars and bikes:
Village with sandy cars and bikes
And then, finally, you will reach the Atlantic coast and get a view of Essaouira from the hills:
Travel blogger on Essaouira hills
Places to Visit in Essaouira
Now, let’s go and explore the historic city of Essaouira.
Historic Essaouira medina
Map of Essaouira
Essaouira, Morocco and Essaouira walking itinerary on the map
Here you can see a map of Essaouira. I spent the afternoon walking around the city and here you can see a rough draft of my walking itinerary through the old town where most of Essaoiura’s sights are.
My walk was not straight like the one on the map all the time. As the city was a labyrinth I got lost at times. Like always I wanted to see the smallest side streets, and stopped each time there was something to stop for.
I started from the central marketplace Place Moulay Hassan.
Place Moulay Hassan
Places to visit in Essaouira: Place Moulay Hassan
The square of Moulay Hassan is a natural place to start with. South of the square is the old harbor with its blue wooden fishing boats and on the north side is the Medina. Moulay Hassan is the social center where people gather at nights.
At daytime life is pretty quiet here but in the evenings they come and set up grilled fish stalls on the square. After that Place Moulay Hassan will wake up…
A Place Moulay Hassan cafe
Place Moulay Hassan street life
Essaouira City Walls
Places to visit in Essaouira: city walls
Essaouira has massive city walls around it, on all sides. But these walls are not as old as you could imagine.
They are from the 18th century, from the time the town was built. Essaouira was purpose-built by Sultan Ben Abdallah and it was to become a Moroccan naval base. So the city center was totally redesigned by a Frenchman who worked for the Sultan.
The Frenchman combined European and Moroccan styles and gave Essaouira a new, different design, something French and something very Moroccan.
Essaouira city walls and the ocean from a blue cafe
Essaouira, a Blue and White City
Places to visit in Essaouira, blue cafés
Essaouira became a blue and white city. The houses were painted in fresh white and blue colors.
I don’t know if these colors are typical of Morocco or not. Maybe they are, I have seen another blue and white coastal town in Morocco: Asilah two hours south of Tanger (a day trip by train, recommend!). Asilah is a very pretty town as well.
Essaouira colors, Morocco
This makes me think about Greece. And in my home country Finland we have blue and white in our flag. But the Moroccan blue is a lot stronger than the Finnish one.
The same Moroccan blue exists in clothing as well:
Moroccan blue in traditional clothing
This man in the blue and white city of Essaouira is having his mint tea. In Morocco green mint tea is almost a national drink. They serve it everywhere at all times of day, either unsweetened or with a lot of sugar added.
Moroccan mint tea, Essaouira
But the group I was traveling with didn’t have tea, we had a lunch. And some good Moroccan white wine. We sat and enjoyed the sea breeze and the city walls:
Moroccan white wine in Essaouira
Essaouira’s Long History
As I already mentioned the medina was built first in the 18th century. Yet Essaouira has been a wealthy city and a trade center for thousands of years before that.
In Roman times Essaouira produced purple dye that at that time was the world’s most valuable commodity. In those days it was common to use purple dye to color the clothes of the rich and wealthy. The ingredients to make purple dye came from sea snails that were only found in places around Essaouira.
Today there are more ways to produce colors but strong colors still make an essential part of the Moroccan culture.
You can see strong colors everywhere, in textiles, carpets and clothing:
Places to visit in Essaouira: Moroccan handicraft stores
Local Essaouira women
So Essaouira has been an important trading port for thousands of years and both Europeans and Moroccans wanted to rule the city. In addition there were the Arabs from the north and the Berbers from the south.
Later on artists flocked to Essaouira for its intensive light. Essaouira became an artist city in the 1950s and many famous people like Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley and Winston Churchill stayed here.
The next people to come were the hippies. And today as Morocco develops its tourism European travelers are coming to Essaouira.
Tagine pot souvenirs
More tourist stuff
African art gallery
Places to Visit in Essaouira: Medina
Essaouira is on UNESCO’s World Heritage List
Essaouira’s walled medina is on UNESCO’s World Heritage List which helps keep it as it is. I dived in the old town and walked aimlessly in its labyrinths, watching locals spend their Friday afternoon.
Essaouira medina Friday afternoon
The principle with Moroccan medinas is always that they are divided in two by two crossing main streets. The center is where these streets cross. That’s where the most important souks like the food and spice souks are.
All other souks are arranged on the next streets on the basis of which products they sell. And the mosque normally is a block or two from the center.
Essaouira medina in photos:
An Essaouira man with his carriage
Typical Essaouira street
A blue window
Places to visit in Essaouira, the souks
A side street with carpets
Essaouira locals and visitors
Cats always take the warmest place
Ladies on Friday walk
But as I was on an Essaouira day trip it was now time to stop dreaming… I suddenly noticed the time was running out. I had to rush back to my group’s meeting point as we were soon going back to Marrakech.
It was so sunny, nice and warm in the Medina and all smells and tastes made me totally forget about the time. And then, the wind and fresh air woke me up:
It was nice to hear the seagulls again, and see the ocean waves. Essaouira has a lovely beach that I didn’t have any time to enjoy.
I wish to meet you again, Essaouira. If I ever will return to this pretty coastal town I will spend some time walking along the beach, then stroll in the harbor and walk all the way around the medina along the massive city wall. And then I have to see all the art galleries and museums.
What more do I have to see? The tree goats on the Marrakech Essaouira road. To read about goats climbing in trees check our this post: Morocco: Did I See Goats in Trees?
Essaouira beach cafe in coastal Morocco
My trip to Morocco was made possible by Moroccan National Tourist Office, in whose press trip I participated. All opinions expressed in this blog post, however, are my own.
More on Morocco Travel:
- Marrakech, the pink fairy-tale city of Morocco: The Top Things to Do in Marrakech
- See my all posts on Morocco
- The Moroccan National Tourist Office website